Some folks were born made to wear the symbiote.
It’s beginning to feel like the ’90s all over again, what with all the new Venom content Marvel has been pumping out. The good news is that the current ongoing Venom series sets a strong example for other books to follow. Not to mention that the changes Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman have made to Venom’s mythology have opened the door for all sorts of new spinoffs and flashback tales. That’s basically the gist of Marvel’s new Web of Venom anthology series. And with Cates scripting this first spinoff issue, Web of Venom: Ve’Nam #1 captures some of what makes the main series so special, though it does face some major hurdles along the way.
The amusingly titled Ve’Nam flashes back to the ’60s to explore the early days of Rex Strickland and his platoon of symbiote-enhanced soldiers. Unfortunately, this issue’s biggest flaw is that it doesn’t actually focus a great deal on these characters directly. The story picks up after Rex and his team have been let loose in Vietnam and gone AWOL. The focus is instead on Nick Fury as he recruits a familiar hero to help him clean up a growing mess of SHIELD’s own making.
It’s not that Cates doesn’t do a great job writing these two characters and their dynamic. If anything, this issue left me hoping that he’ll be given the chance to write a long-form project with one or both of them in the near future. But it does seem like a strange choice to focus so much attention on these two and their familiar dynamic rather than devote more room to fleshing out these newer creations. Rex does eventually become a bigger player in the story, but not to the extent I would have liked.
This issue marks a slight visual shift from the main series. Juanan Ramirez doesn’t necessarily attempt to replicate the look and style of Stegman’s work, instead opting for a grittier approach that suits the subject matter and the Vietnam throwback setting. Tonally and visually, this comic plays like a Predator movie, as a ragtag band of heroes are hounded in a deadly jungle environment. Ramiriez uses the environment to its full advantage, rendering the symbiote soldiers as feral monsters who strike from above. There’s a sinister, unsettling quality to the art that enhances the already foreboding tone of Cates’ script.
Ultimately, Ve’Nam leaves the reader wanting more, and that’s both a positive and a negative. It offers some welcome insight into the history of SHIELD’s symbiote operations, but doesn’t delve deeply enough into these new characters. There’s also a tiny influence of John Carpenter’s The Thing to the story. Had Cates and Ramirez more room to work with, they could have done far more with that “man or impostor” conflict. This story could have justified an entire miniseries. But perhaps it’s better to quit early rather than wear out your welcome.